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Armed Forces

Foreign Service
Soldiers waging war and keeping peace

The 20th century saw military conflagrations and official brutalities of unprecedented scope. Yet in the midst of that violence an idea took hold: that soldiers could be deployed for peace as well as war. Now, as a new century opens, more than half a million land-based troops are serving outside their home countries—some 160,000 as soldiers of war, the rest charged with building relationships with allies, assisting in disaster relief, patrolling borders. Like pieces on a global chessboard, peacekeeping soldiers have been positioned by governments and organizations that hope the presence and preparedness of these troops will defuse tension and build security.
"We are guests and as such we must respect the German way of life and culture," a manual instructs new arrivals to British Forces Germany. The U.K.'s largest military contingent outside its own borders, the 22,000 troops stationed there are accompanied by an equal number of civilians and family members. The whole operation extends over an area of northwestern Germany nearly as large as Scotland. As with other foreign troops posted to Germany, the British force is a holdover from the Cold War.
Of course, war—the old-fashioned kind where nations unleash military force against one another—still prevails in many parts of the world. As of February, the U.S., U.K., and 34 other coalition countries had 145,000 troops in Iraq. Conflicts in other parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia also bring soldiers into sometimes unexpected military coalitions—and unprecedented peacekeeping roles.
The United Nations' first peacekeeping mission was to the Middle East in 1948. Assigned to supervise a cease-fire between Arabs and Israelis, 63 military observers from the U.S., Belgium, and France were under the direction of a Swedish diplomat. In December 2003 more than 3,000 soldiers were engaged in a variety of multinational peacekeeping operations in the Middle East. Two-thirds were UN troops supervising the withdrawal of Israeli forces from neighboring Lebanon.
The UN's peacekeeping missions are authorized by the Security Council. Historically, personnel have been requested from member nations for UN-directed operations. Increasingly, though, the UN is calling on multinational organizations, like NATO, to carry out Security Council mandates. Globally, more than 85,000 troops are involved in UN peacekeeping missions as well as other operations authorized but not directed by the UN.
Recently, the leading contributors of military personnel to UN missions have been developing nations. The UN pays contributing countries a thousand dollars per soldier per month—an economic incentive for some nations. Ghana's 2,200 UN peacekeepers, about a third of the country's armed forces, earned 26 million dollars in 2003, a sum almost equal to the government's defense budget. For larger troop contributors, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, UN payments add up to a negligible fraction of total defense spending. Today's soldier—seasoned by complex and hazardous duties abroad, carried out alongside comrades from around the world—is part of the changing face of peace, and war.
—Lynne Warren

Web Links

Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
Read about the countries participating in OIF and contributing troops to ongoing stability operations in Iraq.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Learn about NATO-led international forces responsible for maintaining security in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

United Nations Peacekeeping in the Service of Peace
This comprehensive look at peacekeeping past and present may be viewed in six languages.

Free World Map

International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Military Balance 2003-2004. Oxford University Press, 2003.
World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 2003.

For a detailed map of troop deployment around the world, see the May NGM Geographica.


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